We have been hearing, since San Diego Comic Con back in July, that this season, Emma would be enjoying a bevy of beaus. Foolishly, I think we assumed that they would be trotted out over the course of the season, each one making a play for her, with perhaps the whole thing building into a background sub-plot where she eventually picks one and makes an attempt to have a normal (or as normal as possible, in a fairy-tale context) relationship—something we had been led to believe she wasn’t really capable of.
So this week was a bit over the top in that not one, but three men were, in Sunday’s episode, posited as potentials in this vein.
But let’s face it, despite her choices, if she’s looking for a happily-ever-after, the pickings are kinda slim.
The least likely candidate is a complete newcomer on the show, and he brings with him a big (and somewhat surprising) chunk of Emma’s backstory. And let me say: it’s about time. Because we have only ever been told who and what Emma is. Which is likely why she’s the least interesting character on the show. Hell, there are inanimate objects on the show that I’m more curious about than the actual savior of Storybrooke.
But we did finally get something a little more substantial this week as we learn not only where Emma comes from, but Henry’s origin as well. We even find out where Emma got the yellow VW Beetle: she jacked it from another thief. Putting aside the juvenile attempt to make Emma appear younger by putting her in a plaid dress and ponytail (ick!), the writers posit her as completely inept as a thief. Who steals a car with the owner asleep in the backseat? More to the point, regardless of actual thieving skill, how on Earth do you miss a guy in the backseat of a Beetle while you’re using a slimjim on said car?!?
But of course, he too turns out to be a thief and quickly charms young Emma into joining him. Michael Raymond-James’ Neal is sweet, and he genuinely cares for Emma. His professional past, however, puts them in a danger too great to escape unscathed, and he eventually makes a sacrifice in order to save her. They are separated, but he is not entirely out of the picture and makes it clear he continues to want to be with her. And importantly, by the time he makes his decision, he knows more about Emma than she will know about herself until after she breaks the curse.
Which means that, while it would be an adjustment for him, the idea of moving to the Enchanted Forest wouldn’t be an entirely new one—and his knowledge overcomes possibly the biggest obstacle Emma would face in choosing someone from our world: explaining where she’s from.
He learns this from the second potential suitor, one whose return set the Twitterverse on fire this week: August (Eion Bailey) is back, at least in flashback form, and we get some small hint at how he and Emma were separated in the first place. However, in a show where the reasons for things are usually well thought out and often inspired, the explanation falls flat. It’s just so mundane.
August and Emma have already had a few moments that hint at potential romance, but that was cut short when he went wooden on her. And “Tallahassee” has another man showing definite signs of wood over Emma: Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue).
And again, we dip back into the uninteresting. There’s plenty of chemistry between the two, and O’Donoghue makes what could be a fairly one-note character entertaining and somewhat layered, but it’s the standard bad-boy-falls-for-good-girl-with-mildly-colorful-past-after-the-two-start-out-disliking-each-other. There are a dozen shows on TV right now with exactly the same storyline. It’ll take more than casting a dashing Hook as the bad-boy to overcome this one.
Unfortunately, the cliché in this episode isn’t limited to Emma’s relationships. The main storyline—Jack (the deceased) and the Beanstalk—is completely wasted, as is the guest star playing the Giant (Lost’s Jorge Garcia). The backstory about the relation between humans, magic beans, and giants told by Hook is suspicious on its face, and he almost acknowledges it:
“Whatever story you think you know is almost certainly wrong. The truth’s a little bit more gruesome.”
When you have to claim you’re telling the truth, you almost never actually are, right? To be fair, it’s not all that great a story to begin with. A boy sent by his poor mother to sell the family’s only asset (a cow) to feed them is stupid enough to trade the cow for “magic beans.” Then he climbs the resulting beanstalk and pilfers from the giant until the giant get pissed off enough to look for a little retribution. Jack then murders the giant. What the hell is the moral of that little tale?
And the thing is, while, yes, like every other fairy tale story we’ve seen so far, this Jack-and-the-Beanstalk thing won’t work out how we’ve read or seen it in the past, the story that we are told is so obvious…so telegraphed…that it becomes a little boring to watch it play itself out. Much like it appears the story of Emma’s love life might go. Time will tell on that one. But on a show that’s done some fairly inventive story-telling, this week’s episode feels phoned in by the writers, and the series’ best actors are given little to do this week to make up the difference. Frankly, while I get that a show is rarely uniform in its quality, but you’d think one with a giant in it wouldn’t come up quite so short.
Laura Akers is a teacher by calling and a geek academic by nature. Her sporadic but often too-lengthy writing for Comics Bulletin (and her own personal musings) tend to revolve around issues of gender, sexuality, identity, politics, religion (and all the other things you’re not supposed to bring up in polite conversation) in TV/film/webseries narratives. You can get topical whiplash and occasionally offended by following her at @laurajakers